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permission to carry out renovation work is a complex subject. It's
therefore essential that before starting (or even planning) any
renovation work, you check the procedures that apply in your commune.
In all cases, you should go first to your local town hall and ask for
the service d'urbanisme. In a large or medium-size town, this
may be a separate department manned by an architect who's familiar with
the buildings in the town. In a small town or village, the mayor himself
and his assistant may deal with everything and will act as your liaison
with the Direction Départementale de l'Equipment (DDE), which is
responsible for approving all planning applications.
Failure to apply for planning permission can result in the demolition of
renovation work and even of the whole building (within a short time) and
the payment of a penalty, followed by endless, costly and often
agonising negotiations with French administration.
Planning applications, however, aren't something to be afraid of. In
most cases, reasonable requests for permission are sympathetically
received and, unless your plans are outrageous or your property is
listed, are unlikely to be rejected, although certain modifications may
be required. In fact, any modifications are likely to be in your
interest, and you're likely to receive helpful advice as to the best way
to carry out your renovation, which will save you both money and time,
as well as ensuring that the result is in keeping with local style and
Preparing a planning application can also be beneficial in helping you
with your own planning.
Rules and Regulations
there's general legislation governing planning applications that applies
throughout France, detailed rules and regulations vary considerably from
region to region, department to department, commune to commune and even
village to village, which makes it impossible to list them all here. For
example, in Côtes d'Armor in Brittany, you cannot usually obtain a
permit to build a house less than 100m from a farmer's field. This may
not apply in the heart of France.
Those planning to buy property for renovation in Brittany should note
that planning regulations have been considerably tightened in recent
years. Many small towns and villages have joined the Commune du
Patrimoine Rural de Bretagne, which aims to maintain properties to their
original specification, eg: only traditional fittings may be used and
even the terrain may not be altered by tree planting without permission.
For this reason, it's essential to seek advice from people who know your
area and can provide information specific to local regulations. Your
first port of call, as in most matters to do with renovation, should be
your local town hall. Nevertheless, certain rules apply in most areas,
including the following:
Rainwater from your roof must not run onto a neighbouring property.
You may not construct a building or plant trees or shrubs within 2m of a
If a neighbouring wall is over 6m high, any building or plant must not
exceed half the height of the wall.
Don't rely on estate agents, builders or other individuals to give you
the correct information; you will be liable for any mistakes, not them.
There are essentially three types of permit (described below), and the
first thing you must ascertain is which of these you will need (if any)
and whether you can submit the application yourself or must employ an
architect to do so on your behalf.
Using an architect
any project to renovate (or construct) a building over 170m2 you will
need a professional architect to draw up plans and make the planning
application on your behalf. (You may of course use the services of an
architect even if the area of the building is less than 170m2).
Calculating the relevant area, known as the 'surface hors d'oeuvre nette'
(SHON), is more complicated than it might seem. All habitable areas must
be included (eg: the first floor or roof if you're planning to turn this
into bedrooms, as well as the ground floor) and measurements must
include the thickness of the walls, which must therefore be measured to
the outside face. However, the calculation normally excludes garages,
basements, open areas at ground level (eg: a porch or terrace),
balconies and any habitable area where the headroom is less than 1.8m,
eg: in rooms under the eaves.
The cost of using an architect varies according to the size and
complexity of the project, but normally starts at around E1,750.
Permis de démolir
'demolition permit' (un permis de démolir) may be required when you
wish to demolish a building on your land, and you should check at the
town hall before knocking anything down, irrespective of how dilapidated
it is. A permit may also be required to lop or cut down trees or to
clear ground for building (une demande d'autorisation de coupe ou
d'abbatage d'arbres or une autorisation de défrichement).
Permis de construire
building permit (un permis de construire) is required for any change to
a property that affects its taxable value (valeur cadastrale), which
normally includes the following:
Any extension to a building, including a balcony or car port, of more
Changing the use of a building, eg: by converting a shed to a workshop
Creation of additional accommodation, eg: by converting a loft or
Removing internal walls
Construction of any outbuilding (eg: stables, kennels or garage)
Enlarging existing doorways or windows or changing their style or
inserting new windows (including most types of double-glazing)
Changing the type of roof tile
Erecting fences or walls or replacing a fence or wall with a different
type of structure
Installing a septic tank
Digging a well
Installing a swimming pool of over 20m2
Installing a pond of over 50m2
Installing a mobile home in the garden.
Planning permission may also be required for the following:
Changing the colour of external walls, windows or shutters
Removing rendering to expose external stone work or covering stone work
Creating a roof terrace
Creating a terrace or patio over 60cm high or covering more than 20m2
Replacing front doors
Installing solar panels if they affect the external appearance of a
building (ie: are mounted on the roof) - you may not need permission for
panels at ground level
Installing a satellite dish (une antenne parabole) more than 1m in
Removing trees (see Permis De Démolir above).
'declaration of work exempt from a building permit' ('une déclaration
de travaux exemptés de permis de constuire', often referred to simply
as une déclaration de travaux) is a kind of simplified building permit,
which may be all that's required for work that doesn't change the use of
a building or create new living space, or for minor alterations to a
building, including the following:
The installation of dormer windows or skylights where there's no
existing roof aperture (provided these don't overlook a neighbouring
extension of less than 20m2, e.g. a garage, car port, kitchen or
Constructing an outbuilding (e.g. garage or workshop) of less than 20m2
Replacing roof tiles or other features with identical or similar items
or materials (du travail à l'identique)
Raising the height or otherwise altering the line or pitch of a roof
Adding or replacing external doors or windows
Building a swimming pool of less than 20m2.
Adding internal walls
A structure of less than 2m2 and less than 1.5m high
A wall less than 2m high
A patio less than 0.6m high
Greenhouses up to 2,000m2, if less than 4m high
Temporary structures on a building site
Statues, monuments and works of art less occupying less than 40m3 and
less than 12m high.
by, Joe Laredo